Russia's multi-pronged assault on Ukrainian cities continues on the eighth day of the war while the first major Ukrainian city, Kherson, falls. Here are the latest updates:

Ukraine's President Zelenskyy (L) says his Turkish counterpart Erdogan
Ukraine's President Zelenskyy (L) says his Turkish counterpart Erdogan "has helped Ukraine a lot" and takes steps to "stop the war." (AA)

Thursday, March 3, 2022

Zelenskyy: Erdogan could help Ukraine get security guarantees from Russia

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan could help Ukraine get security guarantees from Russia during negotiations, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said, hailing Erdogan's strong leadership and his peace efforts.

Zelenskyy was responding to a question by TRT World's correspondent during a presser held at an undisclosed location in Ukraine. 

Zelenskyy said Erdogan "has helped Ukraine a lot" and takes steps to "stop the war."

"Erdogan is very strong," Zelenskyy said. "When we sit at the negotiations table with the President of Russia, Erdogan will help to obtain security guarantees for Ukraine."

"He [Erdogan] will effect this process. I strongly believe in this."

Zelenskyy said Erdogan is taking "a lot of steps" to let Russia's President Putin "understand" that he needs to stop the war.

"Not many leaders in the world has this opportunity. There are a lot of those who desire but don't have the opportunity."

Millions will be displaced within and outside Ukraine if war stretches – UN

More than 4 million refugees may end up fleeing Ukraine due to Russia's ongoing invasion, the United Nations has said.

The United Nations says that "while the scale and scope of displacement are not yet clear, we do expect that more than 10 million people may flee their homes if violence continues, including 4 million people who may cross borders to neighbouring countries," UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

Russian military moving towards Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant

The mayor of the Ukrainian town of Energodar has said a column of Russian troops was headed toward the nearby Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, Europe's largest.

Earlier, the Ukrainian authorities reported that Russian troops were stepping up efforts to seize the plant in southeast Ukraine and had entered Energodar with tanks.

"Loud shots can be heard in the town," said Mayor Dmytro Orlov in an online post.

Russia has already captured the defunct Chernobyl plant, some 100 km north of Ukraine's capital Kiev.

New Western sanctions target Putin allies, press secretary

The Biden administration has announced new sanctions against Russian oligarchs and others in President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle as Russian forces continue to pummel Ukraine.

Those targeted by the new sanctions include Putin's press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, and Alisher Burhanovich Usmanov, one of Russia’s wealthiest individuals and a close ally of Putin. 

The US State Department also announced it was imposing visa bans on 19 Russian oligarchs and dozens of their family members and close associates.

“These individuals and their family members will be cut off from the US financial system; their assets in the United States will be frozen and their property will be blocked from use,” the White House said in a statement announcing the new penalties.

The UK government said it was imposing sanctions on Usmanov and former deputy prime minister Igor Shuvalov as part of punitive measures over Moscow's invasion of Ukraine.

The pair, who are worth a combined $19 billion and have "significant interests in the UK and close links to the Kremlin", are "sanctioned with immediate effect, the Foreign Office said.

Kiev, Moscow agree on corridors to evacuate civilians

Ukraine and Russia have agreed to create humanitarian corridors to evacuate civilians, in a second round of talks since Moscow invaded last week.

"The second round of talks is over. Unfortunately, Ukraine does not have the results it needs yet. There are decisions only on the organisation of humanitarian corridors," Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said on Twitter.

Podolyak said the third round of talks would take place at the start of next week, Reuters news agency reported, citing Belarusian agency Belta.

The talks between the Russian and Ukrainian officials took place on the Poland-Belarus border on the eighth day of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Russia has agreed to support the idea of humanitarian corridors for civilians and a possible ceasefire around them, chief Russian negotiator Vladimir Medinsky said, describing it as "substantial progress."

Meanwhile, Türkiye's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has told his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba that Türkiye welcomed the progress made with Russia on humanitarian corridors.

Czechs to give impunity to nationals fighting for Ukraine

Czech nationals will have the chance to join Ukraine's defence forces to battle Russia's invasion without fear of punishment at home, Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala has said.

Under Czech law, it is illegal to join foreign armed forces without an exemption from the president who is the commander-in-chief of the Czech army. Violations are punishable by up to five years in prison.

CTK news agency reported this week at least 300 people had sought an exemption to answer Ukraine's call for foreign volunteers to fight Russia's invasion.

Fiala said after talks with President Milos Zeman on Thursday they had agreed to guarantee impunity for people who join Ukraine forces, rather than sort through individual requests.

The Czech Republic has been a NATO member since 1999.

Ukraine: Russia opens fire in town next to nuclear power plant

Russian forces have opened fire in the Ukrainian town of Energodar next to Europe's largest nuclear power plant after entering in tanks, Ukrainian interior ministry adviser Anton Herashchenko said in online posts .

Earlier he said Russian troops were stepping up efforts to seize control of Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southeastern Ukraine. The plant's workers live in the nearby town of Energodar.

Russia has already captured the defunct Chernobyl plant, some 100 km north of Ukraine's capital Kiev. 

EU calls for immediate ceasefire in Ukraine

The European Union has called for an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine, the EU's top diplomat Josep Borrell said.

"This war needs to stop now. I call for an immediate ceasefire. I call for immediate establishment of humanitarian corridors," Borrell wrote on Twitter.

Borrell added the bloc is standing by Moldova, which is hosting more than 20,000 refugee children fleeing the war

Saudi Arabia ready to mediate between all parties

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has told Russia's President Vladimir Putin in a phone call the kingdom is ready to exert all efforts to mediate between Russia, Ukraine and all parties related to the ongoing Ukrainian crisis.

The prince reiterated the kingdom's keenness on maintaining the stability of oil markets and stressed the OPEC+ role in keeping its balance, adding it is necessary to maintain the OPEC+ agreement, state media added.

Putin says Ukraine advance 'going to plan'

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said Moscow's advance in Ukraine is going "according to plan" and ordered large compensations for Russian soldiers killed in the military operation.

"I want to say that the special military operation is going strictly according to schedule, according to plan," he said, opening a meeting with his security council.

"We are at war with neo-Nazis," the Russian leader said, adding: "I will never give up on my conviction that Russians and Ukrainians are one people."

He said the Russian military offered safe corridors to civilians to allow them to leave areas of fighting in Ukraine.

Putin, speaking in a video call with members of his Security Council, charged that Ukrainian nationalist groups were preventing civilians from leaving.

The Russian leader said the groups were also using civilians as shields, taking up firing positions to provoke the Russian retaliatory fire. Putin’s claim couldn’t be independently verified.

Over 30 die in Russian strike on Ukraine's Chernihiv

Thirty-three people have died when Russian forces hit residential areas, including schools and a high-rise apartment building, in the northern Ukrainian city of Chernihiv, officials have said.

Ukraine's emergencies service said 18 people were also injured in the attack, updating an earlier toll.

The town of Chernihiv lies 120 kilometres (75 miles) northeast of Kiev, which the Russian forces have been trying to invade from the north.

Chernihiv's deputy mayor Regina Gusak told AFP news agency that the city was hit by a Russian "bombing attack".

"Russian aircraft also attacked two schools in the Staraya Podusivka area (of Chernihiv) and private homes. Rescuers are working in the area," the governor of the Chernihiv region, Vyacheslav Chaus, said on Telegram.

Poland says its citizens should leave Russia, Belarus

The Polish foreign ministry has said Polish citizens should leave Russia and Belarus due to the situation in Ukraine.

"We recommend Polish citizens staying on the territory of the Russian Federation should leave its territory using available commercial and private transport," it said. 

It added that ravel options are limited due to flights between the two countries being suspended.

It issued a similar recommendation regarding Belarus, adding: "In the event of a drastic deterioration of the security situation, a closure of borders or other unforeseen situations, evacuation may turn out to be considerably difficult or even impossible."

Slovakia increases military aid for Ukraine

Slovakia's government has approved a further aid package of military material worth $35.6 million (32.2 million euros) for Ukraine, the defence ministry said.

The package is the third and biggest contribution so far from the central European country, which shares a border with Ukraine and has taken in tens of thousands of refugees fleeing fighting after Russia's invasion last week.

If Ukraine falls, Baltic states 'next', Zelenskyy warns

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has called on the West to increase military aid to Ukraine, saying Russia would advance on the rest of Europe otherwise.

"If you do not have the power to close the skies, then give me planes!" Zelenskyy told a press conference. 

"If we are no more then, God forbid, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia will be next," he said, adding: "Believe me."

He called for direct talks with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, saying it was "the only way to stop this war."

"We are not attacking Russia and we do not plan to attack it. What do you want from us? Leave our land," he said, addressing Putin.

"Sit down with me. Just not 30 metres away like with (French President Emmanuel Macron)," the Ukrainian leader said, referring to Putin receiving world leaders at an enormously long table.

“I don’t bite. What are you afraid of?” Zelenskyy said.

Zelenskyy — who just weeks ago sought to calm Ukrainians over US warnings on a Russian invasion — said: "Nobody thought that in the modern world a man can behave like a beast."

EU grants temporary protection to refugees

With close to a million of refugees fleeing Ukraine already in the eastern nations of the European Union, EU member states have decided to grant them temporary protection and residency permits.

EU Commissioner Ylva Johansson said millions more were expected to move into the 27-nation bloc to seek shelter, employment and education for the young.

Johansson called the quick adoption of the protection rules a “historic result” and said “the EU stands united to save lives.”

The EU Commission has already promised at least $560 million (500 million euros) in humanitarian aid for the refugees.

Johansson pointed to nations like Poland, where the population has gone out of its way to be welcoming to the refugees, as an example for others to follow.

“They need financial support now because they’re going to have to find accommodation for people to have to find schools for the children,” she said.

Quad leaders discuss Ukraine crisis, agree to new assistance

Leaders of the Quad grouping of countries — the United States, India, Australia and Japan — have discussed the Ukraine crisis and agreed to a new humanitarian assistance and disaster relief mechanism.

"They agreed to stand up a new humanitarian assistance and disaster relief mechanism which will enable the Quad to meet future humanitarian challenges in the Indo-Pacific and provide a channel for communication as they each address and respond to the crisis in Ukraine," the White House said in a statement.

Thousands of Russian scientists slam Ukraine war

Nearly 7,000 Russian scientists, mathematicians and academics have signed an open letter addressed to President Vladimir Putin "strongly" protesting against his war in Ukraine.

"We, Russian scientists and science journalists, strongly protest against the military invasion of Ukraine launched by Russian armed forces," the open letter published on the news website said.

The more than 6,900 signatories could be risking a fine or jail time after Russian authorities adopted legislation in recent years allowing them to target citizens criticising the government.

"Humanist values are the foundation on which science is built. The many years spent strengthening Russia's reputation as a leading centre of mathematics have been completely scuppered," the letter said.

Macron believes 'the worst is to come' after Putin call

French President Emmanuel Macron believes "the worst is to come" in Ukraine after a 90-minute phone call with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin who appears intent on seizing "the whole" of the country.

"The expectation of the president is that the worst is to come, given what President Putin told him," a senior aide to the French leader told reporters on condition of anonymity.

"There was nothing in what President Putin told us that should reassure us. He showed great determination to continue the operation," the aide continued, adding that Putin "wanted to seize control of the whole of Ukraine".

Macron also urged Putin to avoid civilian casualties and allow for humanitarian access.

Liberal Russian TV Dozhd halts broadcasts over Ukraine ban

Liberal Russian TV Dozhd has said it is stopping work temporarily after being ordered to close by authorities for its broadcasts on Moscow's invasion of Ukraine.

"We need strength to exhale and understand how to work further. We really hope that we will return to the air and continue our work," the network's CEO Natalia Sindeyeva wrote on social media.

OSCE mission may look into possible war crimes

Forty-five of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's 57 participating states are triggering a system to set up a mission of experts looking into possible war crimes by Russia in Ukraine, Britain has said in a statement.

"They are invoking the so called 'OSCE Moscow Mechanism' to set up a mission of independent experts to... establish the facts and circumstances of possible cases of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including due to deliberate and indiscriminate attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure," Britain's mission to the OSCE said.

Official: Russian convoy moving in on key energy hub

The mayor of Enerhodar, site of Europe’s largest nuclear plant, has said Ukrainian forces are battling Russian troops on the edges of the city.

Enerhodar is a major energy hub on the left bank of the Dnieper River and the Khakhovka Reservoir that accounts for about one quarter of the country’s power generation due to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, which is Europe’s largest.

Dmytro Orlov, the mayor of Enerhodar, said a big Russian convoy was approaching the city and urged residents not to leave homes.

US might impose sanctions on more Russian oligarchs

The United States has planned to impose economic sanctions on a wider array of Russian oligarchs and their families, a source familiar with the matter has told Reuters.

Washington has already hit a variety of oligarchs with asset-blocking sanctions. The source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said some significant names would be included in Thursday's actions.

A second person familiar with the matter confirmed that there will be a number of oligarchs sanctioned.

Nord Stream 2's German unit says may be wound up

The German unit of the Gazprom-led Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline has said it will probably be wound up after the German government halted the project's certification last week in response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

"Due to current developments, also at our shareholder Nord Stream 2 AG, Gas for Europe GmbH will probably be wound up," the company said in a statement on its website.

Gazprom subsidiary Nord Stream 2 AG had to set up the German division to comply with European energy rules that require pipeline owners to be different from suppliers of gas flowing in them to ensure fair competition.

Russian oil giant Lukoil calls for halt to Ukraine war

Russian oil giant Lukoil has called for an immediate halt to fighting in Ukraine, one of the first major domestic firms to speak out against Moscow's invasion of its pro-Western neighbour.

The board "expresses its concern over the ongoing tragic events in Ukraine and its deepest sympathy to all those affected by this tragedy," the company said in a statement.

"We stand for the immediate cessation of the armed conflict and fully support its resolution through the negotiation process and through diplomatic means," its note added.

Moscow: BBC being used to undermine Russia

Russia's foreign ministry has said, without providing evidence, that the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) was being used to undermine the internal political situation and security in Russia.

Moscow has said foreign media, including from Britain, offer a partial view of the world. Some Western governments dismiss that assertion and accuse Russian state media of bias.

Britain's media regulator, Ofcom, launched 15 investigations on Monday into the output of Russian-backed television channel RT over the impartiality of its coverage of the invasion of Ukraine.

The BBC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Russian soprano Netrebko pulls out of Met Opera shows

Star Russian soprano Anna Netrebko will withdraw from her upcoming roles at the Metropolitan Opera after declining to "repudiate her public support for Vladimir Putin," the New York institution has said.

"It is a great artistic loss for the Met and for opera," said Met General Manager Peter Gelb. "Anna is one of the greatest singers in Met history, but with Putin killing innocent victims in Ukraine, there was no way forward."

Ukrainian soprano Liudmyla Monastyrska will replace Netrebko in Puccini's "Turandot" this April and May, the Met said.

Russian Football Federation to appeal against World Cup ban

The Russian football federation (RFU) has said it will appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) against its expulsion from the 2022 World Cup and all international competitions.

Russia was due to face Poland on March 24 in a World Cup play-off. But on February 28, FIFA and UEFA banned the country from all competitions in response to the invasion of Ukraine.

In a statement in Russian, the RFU said it planned to launch a single lawsuit against the global and European governing bodies to "demand the restoration of all men's and women's national teams of Russia for all types of football".

It added that it planned to seek "compensation for damage."

On Monday, FIFA and UEFA announced the expulsion of Russia from all international football.

Ukraine wants more action to stop Russian gas flows to Europe

Europe must stop taking gas from Russian state firm Gazprom, Ukraine's energy minister has said, bemoaning that supplies to the bloc had increased since Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Gazprom said on Thursday demand from European consumers stood at 109.5 million cubic metres compared to 103.8 million cubic metres a week ago.

"It's a question for European companies because they are the sellers and we are just providing the service of transit...they increased the supply from Russia from the first day of war," Herman Halushchenko told Reuters in an interview.

"We'd really like them to stop taking the gas. It's what we say to the Europeans in all the meetings."

The raft of sanctions from the 27-country EU on Russia have yet to directly target Russia's oil and gas exports.

Daily cost of Ukraine war 'likely to exceed $20B for Russia'

The daily cost of war in Ukraine may exceed $20 billion for Russia, according to a recent study.

The study, conducted by the Centre for Economic Recovery, CIVITTA and EasyBusiness, said direct losses in the first four days of the war were about $7 billion, including military equipment and casualties among personnel.

Citing the study, CIVITTA said: "The total daily cost of war for Russia is likely to exceed $20-25 billion given logistics, personnel, rocket launches, etc."

Beyond military costs, the study also mentioned fiscal pressure on the Russian economy, saying: "As a result of sanctions pressure, the financial sector of Russia has suffered irreparable losses."

Poland to ramp up defence spending, army 

Poland will raise spending on its armed forces more than planned, the government has said. 

"There will be an amendment (to the defence plan): 3 percent of GDP on defence next year, then we will increase it," Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of ruling nationalist Law and Justice party (PiS), told the lower house of parliament.

NATO-member Poland, where memories of Soviet domination after World War Two run deep, has kept its annual defence spending to 2 percent of GDP in recent years, in line with its commitment to NATO.

The 'Defence of the Fatherland Act', a bill first announced in October which parliament was debating on Thursday, had initially planned for an increase in spending to 2.5 percent from 2024.

Defence Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said the bill would raise the number of soldiers in the Polish army to 300,000 as part of a five-year plan. Poland currently has around 143,500 soldiers.

Ukraine asks citizens to launch guerrilla war

In a video message posted online, Ukrainian presidential aide Oleksiy Arestovich has urged men to cut down trees and destroy rear columns of Russian troops.

“Total resistance... This is our Ukrainian trump card and this is what we can do best in the world,” Arestovich said, recalling guerrilla actions in Nazi-occupied Ukraine during World War II.

“We urge people to begin providing total popular resistance to the enemy in the occupied territories,” Arestovich said. 

“The weak side of the Russian army is the rear — if we burn them now and block the rear, the war will stop in a matter of days.”

Advancing Russian forces have captured a strategic Ukrainian port and besieged another in a bid to cut Ukraine off from the sea.

The Russian military says it has control of Kherson, a Black Sea port of 280,000, making it the first major city to fall since the invasion began a week ago. Heavy fighting continues on the outskirts of another strategic port, Mariupol, on the Azov Sea.

Second round of talks begins

Talks between Ukraine and Russia have started and the Ukrainian delegation's agenda is to agree an immediate ceasefire and humanitarian corridors to allow civilians to leave front line communities, a Ukrainian presidential adviser has said.

"We have started talking to Russia's representatives," said adviser Mykhailo Podolyak on Twitter.

ASEAN urges end to 'hostilities', doesn't mention Russia

Foreign ministers of Southeast Asian countries have called for an immediate end to what they called military hostilities and said they believed there was "still room for a peaceful dialogue".

In a statement that made no mention of Russia, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) said it stood ready to facilitate, in any possible way, peaceful dialogue. 

It said it was "deeply troubled by the intensifying gravity" of the situation.

German economy to face 'big impact' over Russia sanctions

Sanctions imposed on Russia are likely to have a "big impact" on Germany's economy as well, Economy Minister Robert Habeck has said.

"The impact of the sanctions and of the war on all sectors of the economy is so strong that we can fear a big impact," he told reporters.

He added that the ripple effects were already being felt in the European Union's largest economy.

US warns Moscow, Minsk against nuclear arms in Belarus

The United States has warned Russia and Belarus at a UN arms control meeting not to deploy nuclear arms in Moscow's neighbouring ally following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

"Any movement of Russian nuclear weapons into Belarus would be dangerously provocative and further destabilise the region," US envoy Aud-Frances McKernan told the Conference on Disarmament (CD) in remarks provided by the US mission.

"We call on Belarus to reject Russia's policies of nuclear threat and intimidation."

A referendum in Belarus approved on Sunday a new constitution ditching the country's non-nuclear status at a time when the former Soviet republic has become a launch pad for Russia's military operation, Russian news agencies said.

Swedish Academy condemns Russia's invasion

The organisation that awards the Nobel Prize in literature has broken a long-standing practice of not making political statements by condemning “in the strongest possible terms the Russian regime’s illegal invasion of Ukraine.”

The Swedish Academy has said its history and mission “are deeply rooted in the traditions of freedom of expression, freedom of belief and freedom of inquiry”.

“We therefore join the legion of our fellow academies, literary and cultural institutions, places of higher learning, defenders of a free press, human rights organizations and nation states in expressing our abhorrence of the Russian government’s unjustified attack on Ukraine and its people,” the Academy said in a statement.

Canada to scrap Russia's most favoured nation trading status

Canada will remove Russia and Belarus's most favoured nation status as a trading partner, and will provide additional lethal aid to Ukraine, including rocket launchers and hand grenades.

The only other country that does not enjoy the most favoured nation status with Canada is North Korea, and goods from Russia and Belarus will be subjected to a 35 percent tariff when imported into Canada, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said.

Not too late to stop, UK defence minister tells Putin

British Defence Minister Ben Wallace has told Russian President Vladimir Putin it is "not too late to stop" the invasion of Ukraine.

"The message to President Putin is 'Stop. It isn't too late to stop what you are doing,'" Wallace said during a press conference with his Estonian counterpart Kalle Laanet.

The British minister described the Russian leader's actions as "illegal" and warned Putin he risked "being isolated for decades to come".

Meanwhile, a plane carrying medical supplies left Stansted airport on Thursday morning as part of Britain's humanitarian aid to Ukraine.

The British government has announced it released $53.5 million (40 million pounds) to provide vital medical aid.

Ukraine's banking system resilient: Central bank governor

Ukraine's central bank governor Kyrylo Shevchenko has said the Ukrainian banking and financial system remains resilient amid Russia's invasion.

Shevchenko added that it has been boosted by international financial support amounting to around $15 billion.

"The National Bank is doing everything necessary to ensure the continuity of both non-cash and cash payments and the smooth functioning of the banking system of the state under martial law," he said in a briefing.

China denies asking Russia not to invade until post-Olympics

China has denounced a report that it asked Russia to delay invading Ukraine until after the Beijing Winter Olympics as “fake news” and a “very despicable" attempt to divert attention and shift blame over the conflict.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin also repeated China’s accusation that Washington provoked the war by not ruling out NATO membership for Ukraine.

“We hope the culprit of the crisis would reflect on their role in the Ukraine crisis, take up their responsibilities, and take practical actions to ease the situation and solve the problem instead of blaming others,” Wang told reporters at a daily briefing.

The article in The New York Times cited a “Western intelligence report” considered credible by officials.

UN: All of humanity at risk from nuclear threat over Ukraine

The UN human rights chief has warned of a "massive impact" on the rights of millions and cautioned that heightened nuclear threat levels showed all of humanity was at risk.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine "is generating massive impact on the human rights of millions of people across Ukraine", Michelle Bachelet said.

"Elevated threat levels for nuclear weapons underline the gravity of the risks to all of humanity," she added, speaking before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Her comments, during an urgent council debate on the Ukraine conflict, came after Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday ordered Russia's nuclear forces be put on high alert.

Bachelet said her office had recorded 227 civilian deaths, including at least 15 children, but stressed that the real numbers were likely far higher.

Ukraine fears 'false-flag operation' by Russia

Ukraine fears Russia may be preparing to stage a so-called false flag operation near the border to suggest Ukraine has attacked a Russian village, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba has said.

"Russians might have pointed multiple rocket-launching systems in the Russian border village of Popovka towards their own territory. Knowing the barbaric nature of Russian actions we fear a false flag operation," he tweeted.

Earlier, Kuleba's deputy said Russian troops were carrying out acts tantamount to war crimes in her country and called for perpetrators to be held accountable, while Russia's envoy denounced Ukraine and the West.

Ukraine nuclear firm says it still controls key plants

Ukraine still controls two key nuclear power plants in the south of the country, including Zaporizhzhia, Europe's largest, the acting head of state-run nuclear company Energoatom has said.

Petro Kotin, speaking with Reuters in an interview, also warned Russian forces were closing in, and called Russia's capture last week of the defunct Chernobyl power plant "nuclear terrorism". 

He said Energoatom had transferred requests to the UN atomic watchdog (IAEA) earlier on Thursday through a position paper .

Kiev asked the IAEA to downgrade its relationship with Russia, and for the agency to help create a 30-kilometre (18-mile) perimeter ban from power plants for Russian forces as well as to push for NATO to establish a no-fly zone over the country.

IAEA urges Russia to 'cease actions' at Ukraine nuclear sites

IAEA has passed a resolution calling on Russia "to immediately cease all actions" at Ukraine's nuclear facilities following its invasion of the country.

Thursday's resolution also "deplores the Russian Federation's actions in Ukraine, including forcefully seizing control of nuclear facilities and other violent actions," according to a copy of the text sent to AFP news agency.

ICC: Team has left for Ukraine war crimes probe

An advance team has left the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague for the Ukraine region to start investigating possible war crimes, its top prosecutor has told Reuters in an interview.

Their departure on Thursday comes hours after Prosecutor Karim Khan announced he would start collecting evidence as part of a formal investigation launched after Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24.

Khan said his office would be examining possible war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide by all parties in the conflict.

While Ukraine is not a member of the ICC, it signed a declaration in 2014 giving the court jurisdiction over alleged grave crimes committed on its territory from 2014 onwards regardless of the nationality of the perpetrators. Russia does not recognise the court.

Ukraine team headed for talks with Russia

A Ukrainian delegation has said it is en route for a second round of ceasefire talks with Russia on the Belarus-Poland border.

"On our way to negotiations with the Russian Federation. Already in helicopters," presidential advisor Mykhailo Podolyak tweeted.

 Podolyak posted a photo of himself with lawmaker David Arakhamia in what appears to be a helicopter cabin.

Putin tells Macron Russia will achieve its goals

Russian President Vladimir Putin has told his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron that the goals of Russia's operation  — Ukraine's demilitarisation and neutral status — will be achieved in any case, the Kremlin has said.

Putin said that any attempts by Kiev to delay negotiations would results in Moscow adding more items to its list of demands.

Cargo ship sinks off Odessa after explosion, crew rescued

The Estonian-owned cargo ship Helt has sunk off the Ukrainian port of Odessa after an explosion, the vessel’s manager has said.

Igor Ilves, managing director of Tallinn-based manager Vista Shipping Agency, told Reuters the vessel might have struck a mine. 

Later, six seafarers were picked up by Ukraine’s rescue service, a senior Ukrainian official told Reuters.

Victor Vyshniov, deputy head of Ukraine’s Maritime Administrator, said the six crew members from the Marshall Islands flagged Helt were being taken to a hospital in nearby Chernomorsk due to being in cold water for many hours, but had no further details.

Russia to prioritise making military satellites

Russia's space agency Roscosmos has said it will be changing its programme to prioritise making satellites for military purposes as Moscow becomes increasingly isolated.

"The priority here is the creation of spacecraft in the interests of both Roscosmos and Russia's defence ministry," Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin said in an interview with Russian state TV. 

Rogozin added that all future spacecraft will be of "dual purpose".

Rogozin also announced that Russia will stop supplying the US with rocket engines, in particular the RD-180 engines used on US Atlas launch vehicles and RD-181 used in the first stage of the Antares launch system.

"Let them fly to space on their broomsticks," he said.

Mariupol mayor: Russian forces trying blockade the city

Russian forces have been trying to create a blockade around the port city of Mariupol, attacking rail links to prevent civilians evacuating.

Mayor Vadym Boichenko said in video broadcast that. constant attacks over the past 24 hours have cut off water and power supply and the local authorities need a ceasefire to restore power.

"The invaders are systematically and methodically trying to blockade the city of Mariupol," he said.

South Korea to provide $10 million humanitarian aid

South Korea has approved $10 million in emergency humanitarian aid, including medical supplies, for the Ukrainian people and refugees, President Moon Jae-in has said.

In a phone call with Moon, Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy asked for all available support for overcoming the crisis and defending Ukraine, Moon's office, the Blue House, said in a statement.

"Through consultations with governments of Ukraine and neighbouring countries as well as international organisations, (we) hope that a prompt support will be of practical help," Moon was quoted as saying during the call.

Ikea suspends Russia, Belarus operations

Swedish furniture giant Ikea has said it will suspend its activities in Russia and Belarus, affecting nearly 15,000 employees, 17 stores and three production sites.

"The war has had a huge human impact already. It is also resulting in serious disruptions to supply chain and trading conditions. For all of these reasons, Ikea has decided to temporarily pause operations in Russia," the company said in a statement to AFP.

The suspension mainly concerns Russia, where the Swedish group has been present since 2000 and is one of the largest Western employers.

Operations in Belarus would also be halted, though the country hosts only a few suppliers and has no shops, according to Ikea.

Kremlin hails Russian troops in Ukraine as heroes

The Kremlin has praised Russian troops fighting in Ukraine as heroes who would go down in history and described the deaths of soldiers there as a tragedy.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov also said President Vladimir Putin would convene Russia's Security Council later on Thursday.

Peskov but did not say what the group of top state officials and heads of defence and security agencies would discuss.

In a briefing with reporters, Peskov dismissed speculation that Russian authorities plan to introduce martial law following its invasion of Ukraine or that they will prevent men leaving Russia.

Peskov said Russian casualties in the fighting in Ukraine, which the defence ministry put at 498 soldiers in a statement on Wednesday, were a source of grief.

No Russian Grand Prix in future, F1 terminates contract

Formula One has removed Russia as a Grand Prix host for good due to the invasion of Ukraine, by terminating their contract, the championship promoters have announced.

"Formula 1 can confirm it has terminated its contract with the Russian Grand Prix promoter meaning Russia will not have a race in the future," they said in a statement.

The Black Sea resort of Sochi has hosted the race since the first running in 2014 but Saint Petersburg was due to replace it as the venue in 2023.

Top carmakers suspend operations at Russian plants

Toyota and Volkswagen, the world's two biggest auto manufacturers, have said they will suspend operations at their production facilities in Russia.

Toyota said it would halt work at its only factory in Russia and stop shipping vehicles to the country, citing "supply chain disruptions" linked to Moscow's assault on Ukraine and Western sanctions.

German group Volkswagen also said in a statement it was suspending production at its two plants in Russia "until further notice", as a result of the invasion.

Russia's liberal radio station Ekho Moskvy closes

The Ekho Moskvy radio station — a symbol of new-found media freedom in post-Soviet Russia — has said it will shut down after being taken off air over its coverage.

"By a majority vote of the Ekho Moskvy board of directors, it was decided to liquidate the Ekho Moskvy radio station and website," its editor-in-chief Alexei Venediktov said on Telegram.

Russia blocked the Ekho website on Monday and took the station off air for spreading "deliberately false information" about the war in Ukraine.

Turkish foreign minister hosts Ukrainian envoy

Türkiye's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has met the Ukrainian ambassador to Ankara.

Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Twitter he hosted Vasyl Bodnar and his wife at the ministry, and stressed that Türkiye fully supports Ukraine's political unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity.

He also thanked the ambassador for his country's assistance in evacuating Turkish citizens from Ukraine.

Russia will continue Ukraine war till 'the end' - Lavrov

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he believed some foreign leaders were preparing for war against Russia and that Moscow would press on with its military operation in Ukraine until "the end".

Lavrov also said Russia had no thoughts of nuclear war.

Offering no evidence to back up his remarks in an interview with state television, a week after Russian invaded Ukraine, he also accused Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, an ethnic Jew, of presiding over "a society wh ere Nazism is flourishing".

He said he had no doubt that a solution to the crisis in Ukraine would be found, and a new round of talks were about to start between Ukrainian and Russian officials.

But he said Russia's dialogue with the West must be based on mutual respect, accused NATO of seeking to maintain supremacy and said that while Russia had a lot of goodwill, it could not let anyone undermine its interests. 

Ukraine's Zelenskyy: Defence lines holding against Russian attacks

Ukraine's defence lines were holding against the Russian attack, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his latest video, adding there had been no respite in Moscow's shelling of Ukraine since midnight. 

"We have nothing to lose but our own freedom," Zelenskyy said, adding Ukraine was receiving daily arms supplies from its international allies.

He said it had been two years since Ukraine recorded its first Covid-19 case: "It's been a week now that another virus attacked," he said of Russia's military operation.

Zelenskyy said Russia's changing tactics and shelling of civilians in cities proved Ukraine was successful in resisting Moscow's initial plan of claiming a quick victory through a land assault. 

Russian firms rush to open Chinese bank accounts

The Moscow branch of a Chinese state bank has seen a surge in enquiries from Russian firms wanting to open new accounts, a person familiar with the matter said, as the country's businesses struggle with international sanctions after its war in Ukraine.

"Over the past few days, 200-300 companies have approached us, wanting to open new accounts," the person, who works at the Moscow branch of a Chinese state bank and has direct knowledge of its operations, told Reuters.

He declined to be named or have his bank identified as he is not authorised to speak with media.

It was not clear how widespread Russian demand for new accounts at Chinese banks was, but the banker source told Reuters many of the companies seeking new accounts do business with China and that he expected yuan transactions by such firms to increase.

China has repeatedly voiced opposition to the Western sanctions against Russia, calling them ineffective and insisting it will maintain normal economic and trade exchanges with Russia. 

Russians across Europe face discrimination, hostility

Russians living in Europe have faced discrimination and hostility ever since Moscow's war on Ukraine began last week.

A Russian national living in Germany's Saarland state claimed that he was sacked only because he was Russian.

Anna Netrebko, a Russian opera singer, was compelled to cancel several of her planned European performances after being heavily criticized for her good relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

German retail brands Rewe, Penny, Aldi, and Netto have likewise decided not to sell Russian-made products. They declared that the food products that were removed from the shelves would be donated to charitable groups in stages. 

Russian airstrikes kill 8 civilians in Kharkiv

At least eight civilians, including two children, were killed in Russian airstrikes in Ukraine’s Kharkiv province, an official said.

Russian bombardment caused massive destruction in the city of Izyum, according to Volodymyr Matsokin, the city’s deputy mayor.

Over 2,000 civilians have been killed in Ukraine since Russia launched its attacks on February 24, according to Ukrainian authorities. 

Russian rouble falls to record lows after ratings downgrades

The Russian rouble slid further, hitting record lows against the dollar and euro, after ratings agencies Fitch and Moody's downgraded Russia's sovereign debt to "junk" status citing the impact of Western sanctions.

At 0830 GMT, the rouble was more than 10 percent weaker against the dollar at 117.5 and had lost over 7 percent against the euro to trade at 124.1 on the Moscow Exchange, marking the first time the rouble has traded above 110 to the dollar in Moscow.

The Russian central bank imposed a 30 percent commission on foreign currency purchases by individuals on currency exchanges - a move brokers said appeared designed to curb demand for dollars - but that did little to halt the rouble's slide.

EU sanctions on Russia starting to have an effect

The European Union's sanctions against Russia over its war in Ukraine are starting to have an initial impact, an EU official said.

"We believe that the package of sanctions we've put on the table is quite impressive and is now starting to have the first effects," the official said.

"Take the economic side, we have the Moscow stock exchange being closed since Monday. The depreciation of the rouble is also quite impressive. The fact that the Russian Central Bank had to double his interest rate to 20 percent also," t he official continued. 

Russia seizes strategic Ukrainian port of Kherson after week of war

Russian troops were in the centre of the Ukrainian port of Kherson after a day of conflicting claims over whether Moscow had captured a major urban centre for the first time in its eight-day of war.

Russia's defence ministry said it controlled Kherson but an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy responded that Ukrainian forces continued to defend the Black Sea port of about 250,000 people.

"We are a people who broke the enemy's plans in a week," Zelenskyy said in a video address. "These plans had taken years to write - they are mean, with hatred for our country, for our people."

A Ukrainian delegation had left for a second round of talks with Russian officials on a ceasefire, Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak told Reuters.

Russian forces have yet to overthrow the government in Kiev but thousands are reported to have died or been injured and more than a million people have fled Ukraine amid the biggest attack on a European state since 1945. 

Russia hits communications facility in Kiev

Russian forces have struck a radio and television centre in Kiev and captured the town of Balakliya near the city of Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine, the Interfax news agency quoted Russia's defence ministry as saying.

Russian missiles struck a TV tower in Kiev this week in what Moscow said was a targeted attack against Ukraine's information warfare.

Hungary will not veto EU sanctions on Russia

Hungary will not veto European Union sanctions against Russia and the unity of the 27-member bloc is paramount amid the war in Ukraine, which Budapest condemns unequivocally, Prime Minister Viktor Orban has said.

In an interview with news website, Orban added that Hungary's ties with Russia had been "balanced and fair" until the very recent past, but the war has created a new situation.

He added, however, that there was no reason to cut energy ties with Moscow.

US: Russia blocks independent news outlets, social media

The United States accused Russia of launching a "full war on media freedom and the truth" by blocking independent news outlets and preventing Russians from hearing news of the invasion of Ukraine.

"Russia’s government is also throttling Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram platforms that tens of millions of Russia’s citizens rely on to access independent information and opinions," the State Department said in a statement.

Russians also used social media to connect to each other and the outside world, it added.

UK broadcasting regulator opens more probes into Russia's RT

The British broadcasting regulator has announced another dozen investigations into the "impartiality" of news programmes aired on Russian state-funded television channel RT.

Ofcom said that it now has 27 open investigations into RT and is considering whether the channel should keep its UK licence.

"We are very concerned by the volume of programmes on RT that are raising potential issues under the Broadcasting Code," Ofcom said in a statement.

The regulator first announced its probe on Monday, saying it had seen "a significant increase" in the number of potential breaches on RT news programmes after Russia's invasion of Ukraine. 

India denies Moscow claims Ukraine holding students as 'human shield'

New Delhi denied Russian claims that Ukraine was holding Indian students hostage in Kharkiv, instead thanking Ukraine for its help in evacuations from the embattled city.

"We note that with the cooperation of the Ukrainian authorities, many students have left Kharkiv yesterday," said Indian foreign ministry spokesman Arindam Bagchi.

"We have not received any reports of any hostage situation regarding any student," he added in a statement.

New Delhi's declaration came after Moscow said Indian students in Kharkiv were being used as a "human shield" by Ukraini an security forces. 

Ukrainian families flee to Türkiye for ‘safety’

Those who have left Ukraine since Russia launched a war on the country continue to come to Türkiye, as they say they find it safe.

Ukrainian families driving their vehicles from the cities where they previously lived are entering Türkiye through the Kapikule Border Gate with Bulgaria.

Donald Hofferber is one of those who came to Türkiye with his wife Lilly and children Aleksandr, Michael and Anna. 

The Hofferber family, who left their friends at the Bulgarian Kapitan Andreevo Border Crossing, entered Türkiye on foot with their suitcases.

Hofferber said there were too many attacks on Ukraine. "Helicopters attacked the bridges. Bombs fell very close to our house.

“The next day after we left our house, Russian tanks reached our house, but the Ukrainian army disabled 20 Russian tanks there,” he recalled.

Noting that they came to Türkiye because they had friends in Istanbul, Hofferber said: "I think Türkiye is safe for us. I'm thinking of staying in Istanbul for about a month.”

Lilly Hofferber could not help but burst into tears from time to time. 

UN: One million refugees flee Ukraine in week since Russia's invasion

The UN refugee agency has said one million people have fled Ukraine since Russia's invasion less than a week ago, an exodus without precedent in this century for its speed.

The tally from UNHCR amounts to more than 2 percent of Ukraine's population on the move in under a week. The World Bank counted the population at 44 million at the end of 2020.

The UN agency has predicted that up to 4 million people could eventually leave Ukraine but cautioned that even that projection could be revised upward.

In an email, UNHCR spokesperson Joung-ah Ghedini-Williams wrote: "Our data indicates we passed the 1M mark" as of midnight in central Europe, based on counts collected by national authorities.

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Source: TRTWorld and agencies